Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Disappearing Loan Trick

In the current economic miasma in which we find ourselves, I take consolation in one thing: we’re all in this big mess together. Whether you are an individual or a business, if you’re in Las Vegas, the odds are that you’ve been hit hard financially. And the entire country is angry about the draconian tactics of many banks, who have decided to continue squeezing credit during the middle of a depression-like recession—despite receiving billions of tax-payer dollars to do just the opposite.

Take the Fontainebleau, for instance. They sued their lender, Bank of America, after it decided it no longer found them credit-worthy and refused to give them money it had previously agreed to loan. I was happy Fontainebleau sued them.

How many people and businesses right now are in this same position, only not to the tune of $800 million? And how many middle class families are in a position to do anything about it? Many individuals and small business are using credit cards to get through these rough times. In response, credit card companies are slashing credit limits without warning (then charging over limit fees) and raising interest rates on customers who’ve done nothing other than use the credit they thought they had. Even consumers whose credit cards have no balance are seeing their credit cut. Jim Randel at The Huffington Post has a great list, “The Ten Sneakiest Credit Card Tricks,” about a whole host of credit card company practices that rob consumers of millions of dollars a year.

John Stossel speaks for the other side, the you-should-have-known-better side. Credit cards, he argues in his recent editorial, “Increasing Banks' Costs Makes It Harder for the Poor,” are preferable to loan sharks, pawn shops, and other similar institutions that loan money to the poor. He says, “Late and over-the-limit fees are unpleasant, but they aren't charged until a cardholder's conduct triggers them.” I’ve got no problem with common-sense rules and regulations, but a $40 late fee and a doubled interest rate for being one day late isn't unpleasant. It's usury.

In the Fountainbleau’s case, their strangled credit line has resulted in lay-offs, which means some of their unemployed workers will be looking to their credit cards to get by this month. When will our financial institutions get a clue? If we fail, they fail, too.
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Picture courtesy of Alexander Korabelnikov at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1136586

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where’s My Crazy Eight Ball?

A great deal of conversation around Las Vegas these days centers on one question: Have we hit bottom? Reading our local newspapers isn’t much of a help, really, because our economy is in uncharted territory. Last Thursday, the Sun reported that Mayor Oscar Goodman has declared that the Las Vegas economy is on the rebound. Pretty much no one agrees with him, but let’s give him points for his positive attitude. On the same page as the story about Mayor Goodman, we have “Shortfall looms large as fire union holds out.” When you’re squabbling about money for firefighters, times are bad.

On Friday, the RJ’s business section wondered, “Could the median price for existing homes in Las Vegas fall to $100,000?” Could that mean people will begin buying houses again? Personally, I think that would be a good thing. Along with the $100,000 question, the RJ ran “Reports cool off hopes of recovery,” “IGT forges ahead despite second-quarter loss,” and “Penn National prospers; tries to quell LV rumors.”

I started looking for my magic eight ball, so I could get some clearer answers, but all I found was a note on the shelf where it used to sit. “Ask again later,” it said. Good grief, for that I could have read the newspaper.
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Picture courtesy of Rodolfo Clix at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/957145

True Las Vegas Ingenuity

Now that the construction business in Las Vegas has fallen to pre-Anasazi levels, we have a surplus of heavy equipment around town. One enterprising Las Vegan came up with a way to put some of it back to work. Michael Price’s new business, Big Dig, can help you connect with your inner construction worker. Last week Las Vegas Sun reporter Brendan Buhler reported on Price’s business in his article, “It’s just fun to crush things.”

For a mere $200, you can spend thirty minutes crushing cars with a bulldozer or excavator. Yuppers, you read that correctly. You fork over two Benjamins, and for half an hour you get to indulge those dreams (you know you’ve had them) of smashing other cars, only instead of plowing through jammed-up traffic on I15 (and then being escorted to jail), you get to crush cars in an empty lot in Henderson. Now THAT’s worth saving up for!
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Picture courtesy of Steve Woods at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1120070

The Las Vegas Sun Wins a Pulitzer

Last week, the Las Vegas Sun won journalism’s highest award, the Pulitzer Prize. Sun writers Alexandra Berzon, David Clayton, and Matt Huffington covered a story that might have gone unnoticed—the death of construction workers on the Strip. Here’s the Sun’s sub-head from last week: “53 stories, 21 editorials, no more deaths.” If you’ve been wondering what the big deal is about newspapers going out of business, then the story of these stories should help you understand. These three journalists saved lives because they wanted to know why nine people died in sixteen months on Strip construction jobs. Here’s what last Tuesday’s Sun said:

“Before the Sun exposed the problems, construction safety had been a nonissue in Las Vegas. Worker deaths were considered the cost of doing business along the Strip, which was in the heat of a $32 billion building boom. Berzon said there was a feeling at the time that there was so much construction happening so fast that ‘of course people were going to make mistakes and die.’ ” Thanks to these reporters, that’s no longer the attitude.

Congratulations to the Sun, and to these dedicated journalists.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Vegas Girl’s Guide to Drinking

When you’ve lived in Las Vegas your entire life, you eventually learn that the things you accept as normal are often scandalous to people from the blander cities of our great nation. Billboards featuring mostly naked women don’t even register for me, but to a great many letter-to-the-editor writers who moved here from, say, Minnesota, a bare cellulite-free butt is very offensive. Another scandalous-to-others category is drinking, as in adult beverages. If you’ve just moved here from a more sedate state, please let me give you a native’s guide to what’s acceptable in Las Vegas.

Is it noon? Is it noon somewhere on the planet? Yes? Good. Are you working or driving? Responsible for explosives? No? Then you have permission to begin drinking. If you must begin drinking before noon (local time), a mimosa or a Bloody Mary (or a couple, depending upon the crowd) is perfectly acceptable. Downing shots of tequila with your brunch is frowned upon, unless you’re a night worker who has just gotten off shift. In Las Vegas, some people have worked all night and are ready for their daily quota of strong and highly alcoholic beverages at the same time other people are eating bacon and eggs. In our city, this is an acceptable loophole in the official drinking guidelines (which you only receive after living here more than thirty years, so don’t ask because you can’t see them). Also, during the holidays, a nice splash of Bailey’s or Kaluha in your coffee is allowed, as long as you’re not fixing your coffee for the morning commute to work (and as long as “splash” does not really mean “three shots.”)

So, what about the rest of the day? Well, are you having a meal, like lunch? (Not on your lunch break from work, by the way, tsk tsk tsk!) Is it actually lunchtime here, in Pacific Coast Time? Yes? Of course you may drink! In Las Vegas, any meal increases the alcohol-consumption acceptability quotient. And a nice glass of Merlot goes with almost anything. Of course, if you have already indulged in two or more mimosas/Bloody Marys, then you must subtract points and adjust your drinking downward. The Vegas Girl recommends a non-alcoholic beverage at this point, actually, unless there are extenuating circumstances (death, divorce, etc., in which case disregard everything I’ve said here and drink at will). If you are in the tequila-swilling group that worked all night, you won’t need to worry about this part of the day because you will be asleep.

During the afternoon and evening, you’re on your own. It’s Las Vegas, after all, and we’ve got booze and slot machines at every corner. Does this mean that Las Vegans drink all day long? No, although I must confess I’ve known several who did. What it means is that if you’ve just moved here from some staid place and you’re shocked to see your Las Vegan neighbor drinking a beer at 3:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday, you’re likely to be shocked quite a lot. Really, though, if you’re shocked by anything, Las Vegas probably isn't for you.
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Picture courtesy of Roger Kirby at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/812039

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Keeping Those Vegas Vibes Positive

Finding positive things to write about Las Vegas these days requires concentration. Here are a few of the topics I considered for posts and then discarded as too dreary and depressing: “Dear Credit Card Companies: We Hate You, Too”; “The Bill Collector’s New Approach: Just Don’t Speak English”; and “CraigsList Las Vegas: The Scammers are Alive and Well.”

Before you conclude that the Vegas Girl is steps away from a tent on Foremaster Lane, let me assure you that’s not the case. I don’t actually hate all credit card companies, only the ones who have decided to penalize their best customers before those customers are even late with a payment. I don’t have any bill collectors after me personally, but I had to pitch a huge fit (on paper) to get one of them to understand that the person they were looking for is dead. (Which really hinders your ability to return phone calls and repay bills, by the way.) And the back-and-forth exchanges on CraigsList Las Vegas between unscrupulous would-be employers/scammers and ticked off job seekers can be entertaining.

What’s the good news around Las Vegas? Well, if you believe the growing trickle of we’ve-hit-the-bottom stories, that’s actually a good place to start. Buyers who have funds can get terrific deals on houses; heck, anyone who’s got cash or available credit can get incredible prices on just about anything these days. If we’re sliding backwards in terms of population, does that mean less ugly traffic? Since so much commercial space is open, can we get a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in town so I don’t have to drive to Utah? I admit these are very small points within a larger picture that still needs much improvement. But since we’ve got to start someplace, pick something: Shorter lines at almost every store. Vegetable gardens coming into vogue. Sunny weather. Come on, you can do it. Get your Vegas Vibe back on track.
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Illustration courtesy of jaylopez at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1108723

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Las Vegas Twitters

Have you discovered Twitter? Good grief, it's addicting and frustrating, all at the same time! It's the new micro-blogging phenomenon that kept me up late last night figuring it out.

Here's the idea. You create an account and then search by whatever trips your trigger--Las Vegas, politics, gossip, pets, whatever. Other micro-bloggers (twitterers?) who match your keywords will appear. The big names are in on this--you'll find CNN, The New York Times, etc. Once you find a twitteree (I know I'm slaughtering the Twitter-ese here, but I'm still learning) you click on the "Follow" button under that person's name. Now when you go to your home page, you see all of the bloglettes you are following in one continuous list.

Why Twitter? It's a quick way to get updates on a huge variety of topics, for one. If you are promoting anything, Twitter allows you to broadcast to large numbers of people simultaneously after you've become twitter-rich with followers. If you have a blog, Twitter's gadgets enable you to create your own little sidebar news-feed with your Twitter posts. Twitter subscribers can also opt for updates on their mobile devices, with the Twitter-limited posts of 140 characters arriving via text message.

The only problem, as far as I can see, is that it's habit-forming and has a bit of a learning curve. Twitter-addiction is next. With Twitteranon following soon after, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Puddles and Pet-A-Palooza

Animal lovers were appalled in January when the City of Las Vegas’ animal pound erroneously euthanized a pet (Puddles the cat) after it had been identified by its owner. You can read and watch KTNV’s coverage, or read the LV Sun article, “When owners bark or bite.” Read the article to find out why the management at Lied wants improved security features for its staff. In a nutshell, people get really pissed when they find out their pets have been killed after 72 hours (three days) at the pound.

Before I go any further, let me suggest that we re-name Lied to exclude the word "shelter" from its title. (It is actually operated by the Animal Foundation.) If you look up synonyms for “shelter,” you find “protection,” “refuge,” “cover,” “haven,” “sanctuary.” How about Lied Animal Center, or Lied Animal Processing Facility (LAPF)? Lied may be a lot of things, but “shelter” is stretching it. They're doing the best they can, I know, but let's be honest.

What happened after Puddles died? Has Lied made improvements? Has an outpouring of community interest changed the conditions at our dumping ground for the four-legged unwanted? Yeah, right. I’ve been waiting to hear any kind of follow-up, but the news is too busy with our economic apocalypse to have much time for the animals. If you think this recession/depression/etc. has been hard on the humans in Vegas, what do you think these animals are going through?

Support your local animal shelters, pounds, and rescue groups. If you’re looking for a pet, bypass the pet store and adopt one instead. It costs less and can save an animal's life. The Las Vegas SPCA operates a no-kill shelter, and several other worthwhile animal groups work in Clark County. Lied takes animals for the City of Las Vegas and Clark County and obviously needs people to give homes to them. If your pet is lost, begin checking with Lied immediately; if your pet is taken there, you must act promptly. Consider micro-chipping your pets.

You can also support animals by having a good time at
Pet-a-Palooza this weekend, April 4, 2009. The fesitval is at Sam Boyd Stadium and features music (Gavin Rossdale, for one), food, and loads of stuff for critter lovers--admission is only $5.00 and a portion goes to support the animal organizations who will be at Pet-a-Palooza.
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Photo courtesy of Sande Hamilton at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/984684